Digest>Archives> February 1996

Radio brought keepers into the modern age

By Timothy Harrison


Today we take radio, television, computers, and satellites for granted. But to the lighthouse keeper at the early turn of the century, the radio brought them into the 20th century.

Symphonies, sermons and jazz replaced the monotonous concert of lapping waves on the lighthouse keepers' entertainment menu as a result of Herbert Hoover's plea for donated radio sets.

It was in 1923 that Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce appealed for radio sets to be distributed among lighthouse keepers. "I don't know of any class of shut-ins," he said, "who are more entitled to such aid. The Government does not pay them any too well, and the instruments which they can hardly afford are in many cases their only means of keeping in touch with the world."

As a result of his plea, sets began to come in one by one, until nearly 300 lighthouses were supplied with radios. As a result lighthouse keepers who formerly spent long periods without contact to the outside world could now hear metropolitan dance orchestras, operas, educational talks at night, and of course, radio mysteries. But, most of all, the keepers were able to tune in to Church services on Sundays.

Following the inauguration of Hoover as President of the United States the keeper of the light at American Shoals off the coast of Florida wrote to the Commerce Department:

"At other times when a President was elected it has sometimes been one month before we knew who was elected. This time when Secretary Hoover was elected and it was announced to the world, we heard it as soon as anybody else."

"In the last two big fights when it was announced who the champion was, we heard it. We also listen to ministers preaching, and there is singing - it is almost the same thing as being in church."

The keeper at Key West Lighthouse in Florida pointed out the value of the radio in warning him of hurricanes. "Weather reports are broadcast from about ten different stations," he wrote. "During the hurricane season, the keeper receiving those broadcast reports can take the necessary precautions and secure lighthouse property. In addition to this, he can advise small craft of an approaching storm, and many lives and much property can be saved in this manner."

If they could only imagine what the future would bring about, my guess is that most of them would never have believed it.

This story appeared in the February 1996 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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